MINNEAPOLIS — If you’ve been to a lot of weddings, you’ve probably seen it happen.
The couple walk out to the dance floor, gazing sweetly into each other’s eyes. Whitney Houston’s or Dolly Parton’s divine voice fills the room. Mom and most of the aunts immediately start bawling. The first chorus comes up, and everyone sings along in their head. And some (often unfortunately) sing it out loud:
“I-I-I-I will always love you.”
But then comes this part:
“So goodbye. Please don’t cry. We both know I’m not what you need.”
Say what now?
As a professional events DJ for 10 years, Kelsey Burns has seen awkward moments like this too many times.
“Everyone knows and loves to belt out the chorus,” Burns said. “But it’s about a breakup!”
This is why input from a professional can come in handy when it comes to wedding music.
You don’t want Whitney telling you that splitting up is a good thing. You don’t want Adele asking to find someone (else) like you. And you don’t want tender-eared great aunts storming out in a huff because Missy Elliott or 2 Live Crew seemed like a fun jam to pack the dance floor.
With all that in mind, we asked a group of Twin Cities DJs and singers with ample wedding experience to suggest good — and bad — songs for your big day.
More than anything, all these wedding veterans stressed that the music should fall within your own wheelhouse.
“The song selection should ideally reflect the couple and their tastes — it should be something that is meaningful to them,” said record spinner Jake Rudh, who oversees many matrimonial events in addition to his Transmission dance nights and Current radio show.
Roosevelt Mansfield, who helms weddings as DJ Digie, added, “I’m big on making sure the clients know that ‘tradition’ is overrated and might not represent who you are.”
That sentiment aside, though, here’s where the experts did offer to weigh in.
Best songs for the ceremony
• “La Vie en Rose,” Louis Armstrong. “I had a bride choose it, and the song landed so beautifully — classic, romantic and nostalgic, with a connection to all ages since it was used in the Disney movie ‘Wall-E.’” (Jennifer Grimm, singer)
• “With You,” Tony Terry. (DJ Digie)
• “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey. (Emil Campbell, singer in the R Factor)
• Anything you connect with. “If Pachelbel, Bach, Beethoven aren’t your normal jams, feel free to choose something you love.” (Burns)
• Something short. “It’s not like the movies where the song is playing for the whole montage of the ceremony. What winds up happening is they pick a song and it takes 20 seconds for the bride to walk down the aisle, and the singer isn’t even halfway through the first verse yet, so either the song is cut incredibly awkwardly short, or they do the whole song and the couple is just waiting at the altar … for the song to finish.” (Rachel Holder, singer)
Not so great for the ceremony: “Canon in D,” Johann Pachelbel (both Grimm and DJ Digie said it’s over-picked); “All of Me,” John Legend (Burns, also overdone); “You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All,” Keith Whitley (Grimm: “It always seems to come off like the groom is telling the bride, ‘It’s great when you don’t talk’”).
Best songs for the couple’s first dance
• “For You,” Kenny Lattimore. “Or any that actually mean something to the bride and groom, a song that you see yourselves in when you close your eyes and listen. It doesn’t have to be a slow song.” (DJ Digie)
• “At Last,” Etta James. “Serious crowd-pleaser and easy to sweetly dance to.” (Grimm, seconded by Campbell)
• Your song. “This song will always be ‘your song’ — choose one that is memorable and meaningful.” (Rudh)
Not so great: “I Will Always Love You,” Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston (both Burns and Grimm, see above); “Someone Like You,” Adele (DJ Digie: “Or any song that is tied to a past relationship”); “You Make My Dreams,” Hall & Oates (Burns); anything with sad lyrics (Rudh: “No matter how beautiful the music might be, this day is a celebration, so let’s kick off the dance right with a celebratory song”).
Best songs for father/mother dance
• “My Girl,” the Temptations, or “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong (Campbell).
• “Your Joy,” Chrisette Michele. “This one has my heart because the year this was released, my 12-year-old daughter out of the blue said to me, ‘Daddy, when I get married, I want to dance with you to this song.’ I tear up every time I hear it.” (DJ Digie)
• “The Way You Look Tonight,” Frank Sinatra. “It nicely rides the line of describing love without getting too romantic.” (Grimm)
• “He Didn’t Have to Be,” by Brad Paisley. Picked for the stepdads: “I don’t know if there could be a more perfect song to show this special relationship.” (Burns)
Not so great: “Pay attention to lyrics. I’ve had some very uncomfortable father-daughter dances where the song choice is lyrically all about romantic love rather than familial love.” (Holder)
Best for packing the dance floor
• “September,” Earth, Wind & Fire. (Campbell)
• “Before I Let Go,” Frankie Beverly and Maze. “Never start the party with a slower-tempo song! You want something that feels good and hits within the first few notes. This classic will make the party happen!” (DJ Digie)
• “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. “A great kick starter to get people in the dancing mood.” (Grimm)
• “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Respect,” “Uptown Funk,” “Party in the USA,” etc. “The goal is to get people on the dance floor having a good time, not hearing your favorite obscure indie songs. There’s a reason why (those songs) have stood the test of time: They’re fun to dance to, and everyone knows them, and everyone sings along.” (Holder)
Not so great: “Dancing Queen,” Abba (Campbell, overplayed); “Pony,” Ginuwine (DJ Digie notes the innuendos: “This one can work late-night when kids and older folks are gone, but to start off with this, it could be a big mistake”); anything by Josh Groban (Burns: “Ask me how many times I’ve been asked to play Groban with tons of people on the dance floor near the end of the night. I am kind, and I will smile and write down your request and say “Great idea! I’ll try to fit it in,” but I’m not about to play ‘The Prayer’ after I play Lizzo”).
Our wedding experts: Kelsey Burns, DJ with Adagio Djay Entertainment; Emil Carter, singer in the R Factor; Jennifer Grimm, singer; Rachel Holder, singer; Roosevelt Mansfield, aka DJ Digie; Jake Rudh, DJ with Transmission Music.